I had the honor of picking Rea Frey's mind about her debut novel, "Not Her Daughter," reading and other opinions. If the name sound familiar it's because she is the same author of "Power Vegan," "The Cheat Sheet" and other lifestyle books. The first couple of questions are personal give insight to Ms. Frey's motivations and background. Then we moved on to questions about the new book and reading in general.
1. What first inspired you to write?
"My father. He taught me to read and had at least 30 notebooks full of handwritten poetry strewn around the house. As soon as I could read, I always had a book in my hand. (I even had my own card catalog system in our pantry, which moonlighted as my library.) I loved getting lost in stories. I remember a poem my dad and I wrote together when I was in the third grade called "Soapsuds." It won a writing competition, and I realized that not only did I love writing, but I loved the way it could make people feel. I kept up with poetry, journal writing, letter writing and later, turned to stories."
2. Have you always wanted to write? If not, what did you want to do?
'I’ve pretty much always had two loves: writing and fitness. I wanted to be an Olympic gymnast when I was little. Then it was an Olympic sprinter. Then an Olympic boxer (before female boxing was an Olympic sport). Then a librarian. Then a veterinarian. Then an astronaut. Then a writer. I parlayed my love of health and wellness into writing as I got older in the form of nonfiction books, journalism and magazine writing, but those two “subjects” always fought for the most space in my life. Writing is the only thing I’ve ever done, however, that has felt completely effortless. (But that’s probably because I’ve had well over three decades of 'practicing' it daily.)"
3. What is your favorite genre?
"It used to be literary fiction, then women’s contemporary fiction, then nonfiction and the last few years, I’ve enjoyed domestic suspense, especially since I’m now in that genre."
4. Favorite childhood book?
5. What are your favorite books or authors now?
"Such a hard question! Some of my faves include: 'To Kill a Mockingbird,' 'The Mouse and the Motorcycle,' 'Dubliners,' 'Wuthering Heights,' 'The Grapes of Wrath,' 'The Color Purple,' 'Middlemarch,' '11/22/63,' 'The Power of Intention,' 'Happiness for Beginners,' 'A Moveable Feast,' 'Underworld,' 'The Secret History,' 'Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close,' 'House of Mirth…' the list could go on."
6. What’s something you think readers should know about you or your writing?
"I’m a very fast writer. I’ve never spent five years with one story…I just feel like it would change too much. Every time I go back to a story, I want to edit, so the drafts I put out are actually quite raw (which can be both good and bad)."
7. Preferred working conditions?
"Coffee, Billie Holiday, morning, staring out a window. Repeat."
8. They say writing reveals more about the author. Do you agree? What does your work reveal about you?
"I love that question. When I first started writing fiction in college, there were so many parallels with my own life. Write what you know, right? But for "Not Her Daughter;" I wanted to write what I feel. I took a concept I was familiar with — parenting — and applied it to a situation I was unfamiliar with, like kidnapping a child. While I am nowhere in this novel, I’m also everywhere.
"I recognize myself in Sarah, in Emma, in Amy. While this book is about absent mothers, my mother was always there for me (and still is), so it was interesting to take a deep dive into backgrounds I wasn’t familiar with and imagine the outcomes of not having a dependable mother. What effect does that leave on a child? I think one of my strong suits as a writer is to garner empathy from even the most unlikeable characters. We are all layered and complex. I think that’s what readers will learn the most about me. I’m an open book, and I often notice details that link us all together— and they aren’t always the “prettiest” parts of humanity."
9. What are your goals as a writer?
"You read all the statistics about the sell-through rate of a book, and it’s grim. But then you also look at how improbable it is to get an agent and a book deal, and I believed that I could do it, and I did. I want this book to be a bestseller, sure. But more than that, I want to establish a longstanding career and build up a rich, wonderful readership of people who will enjoy reading my books as much as I enjoy writing them. It’s all about the readers."
10. What did you learn from joining a writer’s group?
"Before I returned to fiction, I was kind of intimidated by writers’ groups. However, after I’d just hammered out my first draft for "Not Her Daughter," I stumbled into a wonderful local writers group. I feel like they’ve been here every step of the way, from landing the agent to the pitching process to revisions to the book deal and countdown to publication. I think you learn so much from objective readers and talented writers."
11. Any advice for amateur authors?
"Read. Read as much as you possibly can. Then read 'Story Genius' by Lisa Cron. You’ll soon realize everything we’ve been taught about writing a story is wrong. Then read what you love to write. Study how other authors do it. See what books are successful, what people buy, what composes a 'good' book to you. Build up your author platform (sounds irrelevant, but it’s not). Finish the d*mn book. Whatever you are writing, finish it FIRST and then have a few trusted readers give you feedback. But not too many.
"When your book is done and you’re ready to query agents, ask other writers for help. (I’m always here to help new writers.) Go to the bookstore, find books in your genre and check out the acknowledgments page. See what agent they thank and jot that name down. Research those agents at home. Look at their author lists. Know how to write a good query letter. (Or again, research or ask for help.) And then send that bad boy into the world and start working on something else."
12. How was it to write a novel in a month?
"It was so much fun! I always say that this book wrote me. It was kind of an out-of-body experience because I wasn’t thinking about next steps or even getting it right. I just wanted to get the story out of my head, and I’m so glad I finally sat down to write it. That single month changed my entire life."
13. Can you list all your previous books and where to find them?
"I’ve had four nonfiction books published by various publishers, ranging from Simon & Schuster to Ulysses Press. They are all available in bookstores or online, wherever books are sold:'The Cheat Sheet: A Clue-by-Clue Guide to Finding Out if He’s Unfaithful, 'Power Vegan: Plant-Fueled Nutrition for Maximum Health and Fitness,' 'Detox Before You’re Expecting: A Cleansing Program to Prepare Your Body for Pregnancy' and 'Living the Mediterranean Diet: Proven Principles & Modern Recipes for Staying Healthy'
14. What is your new book Not Her Daughter about?
"It’s a domestic suspense about a woman who kidnaps a five-year-old to save her from her mother."
15. Where can readers pre-order?
16. How do you think your book stands out from other novels?
"I think I’m taking a common theme, like kidnapping, and reversing it. Is kidnapping still wrong if you’re doing it for a good reason? I think the domestic suspense genre has risen quickly, and I think NHD strikes a good balance between emotion and suspense. At the end of the day, this book is about relationships and sacrifice, which we can all relate to— but spinning the plot to have it revolve around a kidnapping is a different way to approach something universal, like motherhood."
17. You write nonfiction. What would you say to people who stereotype nonfiction as boring?
"Depends on what you’re reading! I absolutely love nonfiction because it’s actionable. I reach for books that will teach me something. As much as I love getting lost in a novel, the most 'changes' in my life have come after reading a really powerful nonfiction book. Anything by Pam Grout, Lisa Cron’s 'Story Genius,' and Greg McKeown’s 'Essentialism' have utterly shifted the way I approach work, time management and my outlook on life."
18. What gave you the idea for this book?
"I’ve always been obsessed with the subject of motherhood. What makes a good mother? What makes a bad mother? Why are we so connected and loyal to our mothers, even when they disappoint us? While I never planned on becoming a mother, I did, and I have learned such invaluable lessons. I’ve swiftly realized that my daughter knows me better than anyone, because she’s seen the absolute best parts of me and also the ugliest parts. Who else can you say that about in your life? That one human has seen all of you, for better or worse?
"On a business trip, I witnessed this horrible exchange between this adorable little girl and her mother, and I couldn’t get that little girl out of my head for weeks. It gave me the 'reverse kidnapping' idea, because we’ve all seen parents mistreating children in public and thought, 'God, I wish I could rescue that kid right now.' I wanted to take a character who wasn’t a mother (and can’t possibly understand the daily grind of motherhood) and have her kidnap someone else’s child with the hope of saving her…It brought up all of these moral dilemmas, not to mention if she could get away with it in this technologically advanced age."
19. How would you encourage non-readers to read?
"Reading is one of the most important things we can do. Years ago, I volunteered with a literacy council here in Nashville to teach adults to read. Trying to explain our difficult language and all of its rules to someone who had lived over 40 years without reading was difficult. But it made me realize one of the most important gifts we can give ourselves and our children is the gift of literacy. If you don’t like reading, you probably just haven’t found the 'thing' you like to read.
With all of the influx of information through our phones and computers, reading a book not only gives our eyes a break, it allows our minds to focus on one thing. While we are able to multitask, we aren’t able to multi-focus. Reading forces you to focus on what you’re doing. Make reading luxurious. Take a bath, have a glass of wine and find something you really love. One quick tip anyone can try is instead of reaching for your phone in the morning, take five minutes and read something instead. Poetry. The newspaper. Classic literature. It changes the entire tone of your day."
20. What other projects are you working on?
"I’m on my second round of edits for my second book and about 115 pages into the third. For my 'day job,' I’m the editorial director for a branding agency called SimplyBe, and we are launching a book proposal division that I will be leading. I write nonfiction book proposals for top-level clients and try to land them agents or book deals, so it’s fun to take what I’ve learned in this industry and apply it to help others!'
21. When should we expect another book?
"I have a two-book deal with St. Martin’s Press, so the next book will be published August 2019. If all goes well, I hope to be on a book-a-year trajectory."
22. Will this book be a series or a stand alone?
"This is a stand-alone book. However, in the original draft, I wrote it with the intention of having a sequel to find out what happens to Emma. When the book went to auction, one publisher wanted the sequel and for "Not Her Daughter" to be a lead title and a hardback book. The other wanted a stand-alone book, trade paperback (because it’s easier to sell), etc. Though I wanted to write the sequel and have the book be hardback, I went with the other publisher because I really connected with the editor. But who knows? If people really love the book and want to see what happens years down the road to these characters, I would love to reconnect with Sarah, Emma and Amy. I miss them already."
23. Do you have a message you want to tell people in the book community?
"Besides to pre-order my book? (I kid, I kid.) A book’s success depends on its readers. While a writer does the work, none of it matters if people don’t buy and read the book. I’m in a debut author’s group on FB, and one thing seems universal: bad reviews. There’s nothing wrong with a bad review, but I would say this to readers and reviewers everywhere: before you slam a book, think about how that review will affect an author (or you, if you were in their shoes).
"You wouldn’t believe how MUCH a one-star review shifts not only the ratings, but the overall morale of the writer or how it deters others from reading and possibly enjoying that book. Not that all reviews should be glowing, of course. This is simply the book business. I am already steeling myself for those who won’t like the book or think the plot is improbable or are appalled by kidnapping, and that’s OK. No one book is universally loved. But just think before you review.
"If you don’t like a book, maybe offer some constructive feedback to the author, because we are definitely listening! Also, sharing the word about a book you love and being willing to pre-order or share on social channels makes all the difference. Writers can’t have a career without readers’ support. It all starts with a strong book community!"
24. What social media can readers find you on?
Facebook: Rea Frey
I hope you got some new books to add to your TBR list and will take advantage of National Reading Month. The release date is Aug. 21, so pre-order her book today!